Sunday, December 19

A father's hands

Usually around Christmas time, I start to think about Mary.  But this year, I've been thinking a lot more about Joseph.  His seems to be more of a background story, the faithful pillar that lends support in silence.  We don't know a lot about him.  We know that he was espoused (engaged) to Mary when he found out that she was pregnant.  He must have been consumed with a whole spectrum of emotions.  I imagine there was some anger, disbelief, embarrassment, heart-break, grief, and probably more anger.  Despite this, Joseph did not want to hurt or humiliate Mary.  I imagine he went to his knees for solace, thus an angel came to visit him.  After all, angels usually appear as the result of prayer.  We know the angel told Joseph to make Mary his wife.  The angel also told Joseph that Mary was carrying the child the prophets had foretold, the Savior of the world.  Joseph knew that Jesus was the Christ before almost any other mortal man or woman.  (Matthew 1:18-24)

I suppose most of us have that typical nativity scene in our minds: Joseph leading Mary on a donkey to Bethlehem, unable to find a room, standing silently by while the world changed forever.  But if we delve a little deeper into Joseph's world, another image emerges.

Joseph was a carpenter and likely had a workshop he had to carefully secure before leaving for an extended trip.  This was no day trip, but rather days of travel on the road for a long stay far from home.  He would have attended to their home, securing their belongings, paying debts, making arrangements with neighbors so that their animals (chances are they had a least a few) and possessions would be cared for.  Joseph also had a very pregnant, very young wife.  A wife who was surely as cranky, tired, swollen and afraid as any expectant mother would be.  The miracle of Mary's conception did not remove the mortality of it.  Joseph, in addition to the worries of a provider and protector, had all the burdens of a husband.  He probably tried to secure the most comfortable travel possible for Mary, maybe a wagon filled with hay to soften to bumps on the road.  (Despite common portrayals of the story, there is no mention of Mary on a donkey's back in the scriptures.)  Joseph also had to assemble their clothing, food, water, money and other necessities for the trip.  I'm sure Mary helped, but given the closeness of Christ's birth, I imagine Joseph tried to let her rest.

I imagine that the trip was long and difficult for both Mary and Joseph: Mary, obviously, great with child and probably in the early stages of labor; Joseph trying to travel as quickly as possible.  When they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn.  Doubtless, this was an unexpected surprise for Joseph and his child-heavy, road-weary wife.  Relegated to a stable - most likely a stinky, dank cave rather than a hay filled barn - "the days were accomplished that she should be delivered."   Joseph was thrust into the position of mid-wife.  There is no mention of other women or doctors present, though we can imagine that Joseph would have sought help.  To lowly, frightening, dirty conditions conditions came the Christ child.  (Luke 2:4-7)

I think back to the joyful, exhausted, painful hours that surround my son's birth.  I imagine how tired, afraid, and happy Mary was.  I remember how tired, afraid and happy my husband was.  I imagine Joseph's tender hands, shaking, as he cradled his first-born son.  Yes, Joseph's first-born son, too.  No random father chosen for the Son of God - but a worthy, righteous man that would willingly take the role of father.  Joseph did not love Jesus from a step away, Joseph loved Jesus as a father loves a son.

Across the spans of time, Joseph's story lives on.  His is a story of willing hands, of gentle heart, of obedience, and - ultimately - of love.  We don't hear a lot about Joseph in the scriptures beyond our introduction, but it is likely that Joseph was present for the birth, death and glorious return of Jesus Christ.  He held the Son of God in the hollow of his hand.

"And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." - Matthew 1:16

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